A Fundraiser’s Journey: Take Stock, Start Small

Kelly picKelly Updike , a Fundraiser’s Journey blogger for PCNRC

Take stock, start small

In the beginning, there was a list of members and it was in Excel.

We thought it was a decent list, about 400 names. Not too many email addresses, some name duplications. Oh, and a couple of people on it were deceased.

Besides writing grants for building projects, an annual membership program was our only fundraising tactic. When someone, once or twice a year, would mail a check as a flat-out, out-of-nowhere gift, we didn’t know what to do with it. We thought our only way of recording the gift, so as not to lose the contact information, was to make the donor a member. We didn’t even have gifts or donations as a line-item in the budget.

But we knew there was a big wide world of fundraising out there and we wanted to join it. We wanted to be professional fundraisers who ask for money and get it! We wanted to play with the big kids!

Our membership list was what we had, so we began there. You can start anywhere, too. Pretend you have to write a summary of your current donors (no names, please) for your board (hey, not a bad idea; someone should actually do this and report back). We call this baseline data. Answer these questions:

  • Who gives to you now? How many are there?
  • How do they give? How much? How often? (that Excel spreadsheet comes in handy now, doesn’t it)
  • Do you know them? How well? Well enough to take them to lunch? Does anyone on your board know them? What is their tie to your organization?
  • Why do they give? Do you know?

It’s okay if you don’t know stuff; figure out what you have right now. “I don’t know” is an answer. You know what I’m gonna say next, though: Go find the answers.

Start calling and meeting with your donors, does not matter if there are four or 400. The cool part is that you don’t have to know them. Say thank you, ask why they have a passion for your organization. Share your passion right back and give them an update. Here’s the really easy part: Do NOT ask for money! Get to know them and why they care. Listen. Take a board member with you, that makes it more fun.

I asked some friends for their advice to those of us starting out in fundraising. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Karl LaPan, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center: Fundraising is about engagement. Building emotional connections and lasting relationships leads to engagement. Once you have engagement with a potential donor, you can find ways to mutually invest in each other’s outcomes. Don’t make the mistake of trying to close “the sale” without ensuring you have established the right level of engagement with your donor.
  • Madeleine Baker, Early Childhood Alliance: It’s critical to understand the importance of cultivating a relationship. Building a relationship has a lasting power.
  • Nancy Louraine, Turnstone: Get out of the office and meet people. A successful fundraising professional doesn’t do it from her desk. You need to connect people to the mission. Tell stories.
  • Debby Beckman, YWCA: The main ingredient to fundraising is about relationships. People need to know that you care about them, not just about the money they can give.

Keep it simple. Just start.

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

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